Justice for Mr. Rocker

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher John Rocker is now reaping the whirlwind sown by his disparaging comments about foreigners, gays, and minorities. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has slapped a 2-1/2 month suspension on Mr. Rocker.

The commissioner acted not as a censor striking down free speech, but as the chief of a large entertainment enterprise very conscious of its image. He wants to make an example of Rocker's behavior, and this substantial penalty should have the intended effect. It's hard to imagine many other big leaguers letting themselves run off in public like the Brave's star closer did to a Sports Illustrated reporter.

Is this "political correctness" imposing itself on young, freewheeling athletes? Perhaps. But more to the point, it's management telling an employee that disrespectful words about teammates, fans, and the public at large won't be tolerated.

The Rocker episode does raise free-speech questions. The players' union is worried, reasonably, that Mr. Selig's ruling could put players in a bind, since they are encouraged by their bosses to talk to the press. The First Amendment would keep the government from sanctioning Rocker or anyone else for their views, no matter how thoughtlessly voiced. But the Constitution doesn't keep employers from punishing workers who break the rules by uttering hateful words.

In fairness, however, those rules must be clear and consistently applied. A team's training regimen should include clear instruction that intolerance toward minorities is not permitted among pro athletes.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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